Chapter XIII.1: In Pursuit of Justice
In Pursuit of Justice
Standing on the bridge, Mediterranean salt spray blowing in his face, danger just around the corner. Not so different from being five thousand feet up Karakoum, or the thick of an Arctic winter. If I can get myself out of a land where the sea freezes around my ship, I can do alright three hundred miles from home. He wiggled the two stumps on his right hand- an adventure behind each.
Vice-Admiral Prince Luigi Amedeo smiled. "No sign of them?"
"Negative!" The first mate lowered his telescope, view clear in the still Mediterranean evening. As far as technology had come in three hundred years, finding the enemy on the empty high seas was hard. "Should I send a ship-to-shore back to Naples?"
Amedeo nodded. That was something he hadn't had as a young man. Being able to talk to the officers back in Naples without telegraph wires was like magic. Of course, the French could do the same exact thing with their men in Nice. And the people of Cagliari had died no matter how fast their plea for help had travelled. He remembered the stench of smoke wafting from the island, the stone-faced reports from the seaplane pilot who'd flown over the city... "Si, signore. Tell them our search was fruitless today." Disgust piled up in his stomach. What justice was there in the world, if the French could destroy innocent Cagliari and get away scot-free? If I do not secure justice, it will never be done. "And tell them we'll keep looking and chasing until word comes otherwise." Amedeo went belowdecks, forced down dinner, and tried to sleep.
Scout cruiser captain coming over, very good. He's seen something.
Cagliari dancing, going to Mass, going to market, children playing-- my God what's that?
Screaming screaming, all of a sudden everything falls down, little child in the street, his eyes wide.
The rest of the world doesn't know yet. To the French it's just a job. But to Cagliari the day of judgement has come. And they are found wanting.
And he couldn't protect them.
Seaplane buzzing overhead, controlled- nonono!
Amedeo woke with a yelp. The cabin seemed very dark, yet he dared not get out of bed to turn on the light. If he slept, the nightmare would return. Amedo breathed slowly, reminding himself he was aboard the Conte di Cavour, the French were nowhere in sight, and it wasn't his fault. Animal fear faded, and he carefully lit a candle, then a cigar. It was only ten-thirty.
Someone knocked, making him jump. He hurriedly threw on a shirt. No need to fear, remember you are safe. "Enter!"
"Sorry to disturb you, Vice-Admiral", the first mate said, "but we'd like you on the bridge. Scout cruiser Quarto has just returned from reconaissance, as you requested. The captain's seen something."
Amedeo swallowed his fear as he walked into the night.
"Found the French." The captain was grinning like a schoolboy, despite the heavy bags under his eyes. "Not easy, Vice-Admiral, but I did it." Amedeo nodded. "Heading north by northwest at about... twenty knots. Probably trying to get home tomorrow even if it costs fuel. Doubt we could catch them now. We would have to move just as fast and chase them to their coast..." The captain shrugged. "Permission to return to my ship?" They exchanged salutes, and Amedeo went to the map room, lost in thought.
Could he catch up to the French tonight? How much fuel would it cost? How would his gunners, unused to night battles, perform in pitch darkness? Could his ships communicate without being able to see semaphore flags? Their men would be tired after a day's sailing... but so would his. Eighteen hours ago they had been in Naples when the word came: the French were pounding hell out of Cagliari and they needed to sortie immediately. If he waited until morning to close the gap, where would the French be? Amedeo stared at the map, pencil and ruler in hand. Right now, friendly Sardinia and hostile Corsica were equidistant. In ten hours they'd be sailing past Ajaccio, the south of France practically in sight. Doubtless the French would hug the Corsican coast, just in case they were being pursued. Continuing the chase ran the risk of striking a mine or three. And yet...
If they get to port they are home safe. And there will be no justice for Cagliari. Amedo could taste the cordite, hear the shells crashing and klaxons blowing. And perhaps fifty years hence, they would remember him as the man who won the Battle of the Ligurian Sea, Italy's greatest naval victory in centuries. But it wasn't a game. Five thousand feet up a mountain, a single slip could mean death. Here, it could mean death for everyone. The men of the Regia Marina didn't deserve to die just because it was honourable, or glorious. This war had seen too much of that already. But what if you really can win? If the French got away, Amedo would spend the rest of his life wondering what might have been. After a few moments, he stood up.
He would spend the rest of the night on the bridge, and whatever happened tomorrow would happen for the glory of Italy.